Ernest Hemingway's short story "On the Quai at Smyrna" describes the harrowing scene of Greek refugees gathered on the pier at Smyrna, desperate to escape their war-torn country during the early twentieth century. The narrative opens with the observation that every night at midnight, the exiles erupt in frightful screaming, setting the tone for an environment of horror which develops layer upon layer. The unnamed narrator, a British officer, engages in conversation with a Turkish officer, who arbitrarily accuses a British sailor of insolence. The British officer appeases the Turk, after which the Turk, who amiably acts as if he and his British counterpart are "great friends," speaks casually about the refugee women who will not give up their dead babies, and about an old woman whose bizarre death he has recently witnessed. Death, it seems, is all-pervasive, and does not discriminate among its victims. The British officer goes on to describe an incident when senseless slaughter between the two sides is narrowly averted just by chance. He notes his own amazement at the fact that in the midst of all the chaos and desperation, women ready to give birth will simply retire to a dark corner to deliver their babies, which somehow manage to be born alive. With chilling detachment, the British officer closes the account by relating how the Greek refugees, whom he calls such "nice chaps," break the legs of their pack animals and shove them into the shallow water to die, because they cannot be taken aboard the boats. All in all, he concludes, with almost a sense of levity, that the whole affair is "a most pleasant business."
The opening work in Hemingway's short story collection In Our Time, "On the Quai at Smyrna" was not included in the original publication of the book in 1925. It first appeared in the Scribner's reissue of the work in 1930, serving as an introduction to the "senselessly brutal universe" in which the characters in the remainder of the collection's stories must learn to survive. "On the Quai at Smyrna" describes a world where grisly horror is so commonplace that it is looked upon euphemistically at best, and without surprise. In rendering this short account of the evacuation at Smyrna, Hemingway succinctly depicts a world gone mad.